For most of my childhood and early adulthood, I didn’t like myself very much. I had an inner dialogue that constantly listed what I believed were my faults: too short, not smart, too skinny, no talents, socially awkward, no friends, ugly, boring, uncool…the list goes on.
After a few rounds of antidepressants, many years of therapy, and a lot of personal development, I thought I’d gotten better at self-love. But a recent experience showed me that while I’ve become more accepting of myself, I might not be completely on-board the self-love bandwagon.
Case in point:
I recently posted the photo below on Facebook. This is my husband and my cat. My husband eats way faster than I do, so after he’s finished, there’s usually a five to ten minute period that involves him watching me eat. I’ve gotten used to this over the years. But lately our cat has developed a habit of jumping on my husband’s lap after he’s done eating. And then she stares at me too:
A friend of mine responded with this insightful comment:
Looks like a case of adoration. A bad case at that. I’d judge it incurable. You can see it in their eyes. Based on experience, I’d say that you’re not likely to convince them to stop this daily doting without wrecking the relationships. My advice is to somehow learn to live with this routine display of uncritical affection. True the cat doesn’t look quite convinced, but in cat-ese this is about as good as it gets.
And my husband responded to the picture by saying that he looks forward to this moment every day.
I laughed – and almost shrugged off their responses – until I realized that they were right. My husband adores me. I see it in his eyes when I do something stupid that makes him laugh. I feel it in his touch when he holds my hand while we fall asleep. He’s proven it by standing by me during difficult times in my life. Here’s an excerpt from my book that describes such a moment at the very beginning of our relationship:
I’m sitting on the couch with my new boyfriend. We’ve spent a wonderful Saturday together and we’re about to watch a movie. He grabs his bowl of popcorn and flashes me his winning smile, dimples and all – a smile that I subsequently came to adore.
“I know we’ve only known each other for a few weeks,” he says, “but I just want to say how lucky I feel. You’re smart, you’re good looking, and you’re funny. It’s almost like you’re too good to be true.”
I turn my head and stare out the window so that he can’t see the pained expression on my face. Little did he know that I’d been on antidepressants for 4 years, and I was planning on making my third attempt to go off them in the next few weeks. In my mind, I’d convinced myself that there was something seriously wrong with me. Why couldn’t I manage to get off these drugs? He was right – I was too good to be true.
I turned to face him and was caught off guard again by his smile – so genuine and full of hope for our new relationship. In that moment, something in me shifted. Maybe the glass of wine that I’d had was going to my head, or maybe, just maybe, I’d finally decided to trust someone with what I was going through.
“Well, I’m definitely not perfect,” I said as I played with a thread that had come loose on the couch. And then it all came spilling out. I told him the story of how I ended up on antidepressants, and I mentioned that I was planning on trying to go off them.
He listened intently, and as I was talking I envisioned the reaction that I expected from him. He would go running for the hills and never look back. I mean really, we were in our 20s, in the prime of our lives, and I appeared to have the emotional baggage of a 40 year old man going through a midlife crisis.
When I finished talking, he paused for a moment – a moment in which I figured he was scaling my apartment to find the fastest escape route. Instead, he put his hand on mine and said very matter of factly:
“Ok, we’ll do this together. When do we start?”
Still, after all these years, I have trouble believing that someone could adore me. And the issue isn’t just with my husband. When friends compliment me on my clothes or my hair or a job well done, I reply with statements like: “Oh this old thing? I got in on sale,” or “Yeah, I just got my hair done to cover the greys,” or “Well, I messed up on this one part of the job, but at least it’s finished.”
Because no matter how much outer adoration we get from other people, we will never be able to accept it until we start adoring ourselves. And here’s the kicker: our self-adoration can’t be based on anything external. It has to come from within.
Wondering how to hop on the self-love bandwagon? Me too. Here are a few tips that I’m trying out:
- Stop relying on external sources to validate your self-worth. I’ve done pretty well for myself scholastically. I have my PhD, I’ve won lots of scholarships, and now I do research at one of the top academic institutions in the world. But guess what? I still doubt my intelligence. I have an inner voice that tells me I’m not smart, I just work hard. You see, no outer accolade is going to convince me of my brain power. Instead, I need to accept that I am intelligent in my own unique and wonderful way. Notice if you’re relying too much on other people, accomplishments, or possessions to validate your worth. Learn to see your inner light.
- Stop Trying So Hard. I wrote a blog about not trying so hard that received 14,000 likes on Facebook. Why? Because deep down inside, we’re all sick of trying so hard in pretty much every area of our lives. It’s time to let go of the paddles and allow ourselves to float downstream. We don’t have to try to be anything other than what we truly are, which is perfect, whole, and worthy of love simply by virtue of being a living, breathing, sentient being on this planet. Here’s a great quote that illustrates this point:“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”
- Know the Difference Between Self-Criticism and Self-Improvement. Self-help and personal development are huge these days. And while I’m all for personal development, I think it’s possible to get into self-help overload. We all have areas that we need to improve, but in order to experience true personal transformation, we need to start from a foundation of self-love. Once you have self-love in place, you can honestly look at where you need to improve – not with an overly critical eye – but with a perspective that’s focused on making yourself a better person so that the world can be a better place.
- Create A “Self-Love 100.” A few years ago I hired Gabrielle Bernstein as a personal coach. One of the first tasks that Gabby asked me to do was create a list of 100 things that I loved about myself. In honor of the fact that this is the 100th blog that I’ve written (WOW!), I am going to challenge you to do the same thing. You can do it all in one sitting, or take five minutes per day over the next two weeks. Focus on big things, little things, and everything in-between. You can include the fact that you like your big toe, that you make a great cup of coffee, or that you’re a good dog-belly-scratcher. When you get to 100, print your list and put it where you can see it. Then, when you feel self-loathing creep in, close your eyes, stick out your index finger, and play pin the tail on the self-love with your list. Wherever your finger lands, soak it up and know that you’re amazing.
Even if you don’t partake in my “Self-Love 100″ challenge, I’d love for you to share one thing that you adore about yourself. Post your comment below!
In the meantime, I’m going to keep working on accepting the fact that it’s perfectly ok for other people to adore me, because I adore myself.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
Image courtesy of Ryan Jacques via Unsplash.com